Verses In Oath
(20 Buck Spin)
HULDER is the self-titled solo act of Black Metal musician Hulder, formed back in 2018 in the Pacific Northwest United States. A series of demos, singles and a lone EP served as the precursor of HULDER’s first full-length effort, “Godslastering: Hymns Of The Forlorn Peasantry”, which was released in 2021. After another battery of singles, a second EP and a live album, HULDER return again with the follow-up “Verses In Oath”, released through 20 Buck Spin. “Verses In Oath” is a modern Black Metal album with symphonic elements and light traces of Folk with a sonic template that harkens back to mid 1990s European Black Metal scene. Emotive strings and choirs merge with crushing riff work and pummeling drums to provoke ancient sensations, while ultra-modern production provides a full register of sound, with an emphasis on a burly and thick lower end. The keyboards are not bombastically in your face, but tempered down and placed behind the guitars, providing an ever-moving backdrop to the sonic landscape. Fifth chord progressions accompanying by grinding single-note melodies are the primary narrative driver on “Verses In Oath”. Hulder, the solo musician responsible for everything on “Verses In Oath” established herself as a high-class songwriter here, refining her craft initially established on “Godslastering: Hymns Of The Forlorn Peasantry”. Many solo acts lack direction and detail to the music or are generally recorded and produced to create an artificially antiquated or ‘raw’ sound, so the modernized production here is a stark contrast against many Black Metal solo acts. Opening with the instrumental interlude ‘An Elegy’, the listener is greeted by a raven’s call and a howling storm. This opener feeds into the first proper track ‘Boughs Ablaze’, an uptempo ripper driven by grinding fifth chords with symphonic keyboards launching the song forward. Hulder croons out a guttural rasping vocal attack overtop the carnage. The vocals in conjunction with the keyboards during the chorus creates a soaring, sweeping sensation of timelessness once captured so well by the Scandinavian scene in the 1990s. ‘Hearken The End’ slows things down into a mid-tempo and changes pace by utilizing a clean vocal approach for parts of the track. This is the type of song that would be playing during a slow-motion panning of a village in flames and invokes sensations of “Nordland” era Bathory. The vocal techniques employed here are just simply impossible to replicate had a male vocalist attempted it, a gorgeous and flowing approach to vocals, a real highlighting to HULDER’s solo talents. The title track returns to the stomping fury heard initially on the opening track, the menacing combination of grinding fifth chords, haunting single-note melody and keyboard accents during the chorus really highlights the thunderous low-end heavy production. The next two tracks ‘Lamentation’ and ‘An Offering’ are a pair of instrumental interludes. ‘Lamentation’ features near-operatic vocals while ‘An Offering’ is a somber affair of string swells, ringing church bells and layered, reverb-heavy vocals that feeds into the next proper track ‘Cast Into The Well Of Remembrance’. ‘Cast Into The Well Of Remembrance’ itself is on par with the mid-tempo orchestration of ‘Hearken The End’, but features an absolutely nasty transition near the two-minute mark that shifts the song most aggressively. Towards the closing third of the album, HULDER increases the intensity immensely. Beginning with ‘Vessel Of Suffering’, which is a slamming cut that has the entire rhythm section locked in to create a massive grinding wall of sound. Even though this is a Black Metal album, this particular track hits harder than some modern Death Metal bands do. A more melodic, symphonic center to the song is heard after the intro section resolves, but the heaviness picks right back up towards the closing. ‘Enchanted Steel’ offers no quarter either, another violent smashing burst of Black Metal power that borders on Death Metal, with a guitar tone that is grimy enough to satisfy fans of all extreme genres. The album resolves on the closer ‘Veil Of Penitence’, which opens to the sound of swords clashing in open warfare. Yet another slamming track of mid-tempo Black Metal that sits right at home with the heavy material infesting the album’s second half. This is a great sophomore effort for HULDER and one that does a solid job of blowing away many other solo acts. Between the atmospherics and accenting details, the sheer heaviness of the second half of the album, and warm bright production favoring the lower end, this is a very powerful sounding record that avoids the modern Black Metal solo act trope. For more information on HULDER see www.facebook.com/hulderus and for more information on 20 Buck Spin, feel free to check out www.facebook.com/20buckspin.